Citroen’s Kris Meeke leads Coates Hire Rally Australia after an impressive run through the opening three stages at Coffs Harbour.
The Northern irish driver, who topped Thursday Shakedown, transferred his pace into the rally proper with two special stage wins to open up a 2.4s lead over Volkswagen’s Andreas Mikkelsen. M-Sport’s Mikko Hirvonen ended the trio of stages in third overall.
Meeke made a solid start to the rally on the 10.7km Hydes Creek opener finishing third behind reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier, who surprised many by taking the win in SS1 by 4.4s from Mikkelsen.
While Ogier impressed in SS1, he was unable to maintain the pace running on soft compound tyres in the following two stages.
Meeke made the most of starting eighth on the road to claim the next two stages winning SS2 Bellingen by 1.4s from Shell Hyundai World Rally Team driver Thierry Neuville.
M-Sport’s Hirvonen was third, while Ogier could only finish fifth losing 3.4s of his advantage.
The 24.91km Newry stage saw Meeke take the lead overall after pipping Hirvonen to the win by just 0.3s.
Mikkelsen finished third ahead of Rally Germany winner Neuville with Volkswagen’s Jari Matti Latvala, who struggled with brake issues on the opening stage, in fifth.
Ogier came home in sixth having lost another 10.6s which dropped the Frenchman to fourth overall just 0.6s ahead of Latvala.
New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon survived a scare in SS1 to end the opening three stages in seventh ahead of Citroen’s Mads Ostberg and Robert Kubica.
Hyundai’s Chris Atkinson rounded out the top 10 with the Australian feeling his way into the rally, which is only his second start of the year.
“I’m probably costing the car 0.5s a kilometre but I’m easing my way into it,” Atkinson told Speedcafe.com.
“The guys who did the stages last year have a big advantage and I just could not get my rhythm on the third stage.
“I’m confident I will go out this afternoon and find a lot more speed.”
Coates Hire Rally Australia Top 10 after SS3
|3||Mikko Hirvonen||M-Sport – Ford||27:47.8s||+3.3s|